CityWatch, Feb 17, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 14
RETHINKING LA - LA’s leadership has a knack for dispensing with the restless residents who periodically take up pitchforks and torches, storming City Hall with demands for accountability in the delivery of city services.
The first step is to feign interest in the opinions of the public in the hopes that the noise will stop.
“Please, take my survey and tell me what you think!” says the Mayor as he engages in the annual charade of concern that precedes the charter mandated submission of the Mayor’s Proposed Budget for the City of LA.
”Please, fill out a comment card and sit for a few hours, then we will ignore you while you fumble through your two minutes of commentary!” say the members of various committees, commissions and advisory boards as they tolerate the public on their way to preordained conclusions and actions.
The City of LA is acutely sensitive to the legal minimum standard for public commentary as city leadership engages in the business of the people because it spends the bulk of its time focused on doing only what is required, not what would be effective or meaningful.
From Brown Act violations at the entrance of City Hall to First Amendment violations in Council Chambers, it is clear that City Hall tolerates public comment because it has to, not because it reflects the will and wishes of the people.
The second step is to feign interest in a movement in the hopes that the crowd will go away.
“Please, stay as long as you need to!” said City Council President Eric Garcetti to the Occupy LA protesters as Councilman Bill Rosendahl stood by his side.
Those who mistakenly assumed that the words of the City Council President had value were quickly disappointed when the Mayor ordered the LAPD to engage in a military style action that removed the protesters.
The cement barrier that currently surrounds City Hall is a glaring reminder that the verbal assurances of the City Council President aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
The third step is to nod somberly and to demand reports from city departments in the hope that the public will accept this as a victory.
The City Attorney’s ACE program keeps reappearing in City Council Committees, resembling that gopher game at the arcade where participants bang on the gopher’s head with a mallet as it pops up in different locations.
The ACE program has popped up all over town but the public has been able to bang on its head with the mallet of common sense, sending it back to the City Attorney’s office for more reports and adjustments and tweaks.
Eventually the public will swing and miss and the ACE program will fly through to City Council approval, just another rigged arcade game that promises much but delivers little.
Most city departments have a staff member who monitors City Hall and generates reports as ordered, knowing that this is all it takes to keep the elected officials at bay. Most of the reports never see the light of day, some get debated, and a few even turn into motions, which then get ignored.
The fourth step is to call for a moratorium while the subject is studied and debated and terms of office run out.
From medical marijuana to fast food to code harassment, LA is the Capital of Moratoriums, demonstrating that there is nothing as attractive as the opportunity to kick an issue down the road and to leave it for the next round of elected officials.
Those who work in the city departments that delivery city services are on to this game and they yawn as they ignore the moratoriums with complete confidence that there is no penalty or punishment. After all, three decades of civil service trumps the temporary leadership at City Hall.
Garcetti’s most recent promise of a moratorium on over height fence code enforcement in Hollywood was rejected by the upper management of Building and Safety, not with an official response, not with a reasoned discussion or a public hearing, but with the most stinging blow of all options, it was simply ignored.
This demonstrates the charade of City Hall, elected officials who must dance carefully to avoid allowing the public to discover that they are impotent, Emperors with no clothing, photo-op captains at the helm of a ship with no rudder.
The fifth step is to issue a resolution in support of a position, one that is suitable for framing, hoping that this will drive the pesky members of the public to Aaron Brothers where they can revel in the victory while the City of LA engages in business as usual.
Cyclists were empowered when the City Council endorsed the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, issuing a resolution that called on City Planning and Transportation to embrace it as an element of the City’s Bike Plan.
Staffers simply refused, arguing that it was redundant and unnecessary and not within the City of LA’s purview. The penalty for noncompliance? There is none.
The final step is to simply run for a different office with a platform of reform, one that attacks the performance of the prior office-holders as if they aren’t the same gang of misfits.
City Controller Wendy Greuel is now auditing the same departments that she dealt with when she served as a City Councilwoman for District #2. Nothing has changed other than her perspective and degree of accountability.
As Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, she had years to engage in oversight of the Department of Transportation yet it didn’t happen. Now, she’s racing to beat the feds in uncovering the indiscretions that took place on her watch.
Councilman Dennis Zine is busy campaigning for City Controller, a position that will allow him to ask the hard questions that he should be asking now in his position as Chair of the Audits and Governmental Efficiency Committee. Again, he is currently responsible for oversight of departments that are currently under federal investigation. How can he run on this record of failure?
Councilman Garcetti is running for Mayor on a platform of reform but how does he propose to change a city family that is currently ignoring his requests, motions, actions, and directives?
The people of LA have the right to demand a City that works, one that delivers city services as if it is the primary purpose of the City. It is incumbent on the current roster of elected officials to take charge of this city and to offer results, not more promises and distractions.
The veneer is wearing thin and it is becoming obvious to the public that City Hall is busy massaging the status quo by delivering memorandums-of-understanding and audits and resolutions, none of which mean anything other than to pay homage to the blue beads of past deceptions.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net.)